Bizarre cloud causes alarm
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  Bizarre cloud causes alarm

Butler Eagle

An airborne phenomenon, variously described as a strange fog, a cloud and a haze, created a lot of interest in communities along the Butler-Allegheny county border on Thursday.

But, before anyone could come up with a definitive answer to what it was or where it came from, the cloud disappeared.
Initial reports came about noon when Pittsburgh media reported that an unexplained cloud was drifting in West Deer Township in northern Allegheny County.

Later reports had the cloud moving into southern Butler County, particularly Middlesex Township.

By 3 p.m., Frank Matis, director of Butler County Emergency Services, sent out a press release stating that his office has gotten calls about a green cloud.
"At this point no confirmation of any type of chemical release is reported in the area," read the statement. "At this time, Butler County is not issuing any advisories or recommendations."

Guillermo Cole, Allegheny County Health Department spokesman, said county emergency services received the first report of the cloud at 12:02 p.m.
He said about six West Deer Township residents reported seeing a yellowish cloud that emitted a faintly sweet smell. West Deer police, who arrived at a location where the cloud was sighted, reported that it had already largely dissipated.

"By the time the police got there, only trace amounts were (detectable,)" Cole said.

Hazardous materials crews tested the air there with portable monitoring devices, but all tests came up normal. Cole said the devices test for chlorine and other airborne substances.

"We don't know what it is or was or where it came from," said Cole, "but it seemed to dissipate quickly and there were no injuries or illnesses reported."
Cole said all industries in Allegheny County that hold permits for toxic substances are required to alert the county in the case of an emission or release, and none did so.

He said public pools that store chlorine are also required to report spills or leaks, which none did. The health department also compared its list of facilities where chemicals are stored with the exact areas where the cloud was observed, but found no correlation.

Cole said a weather inversion, where air pollution existing high in the atmosphere inverts and is trapped closer to the ground, could have caused the condition.
"Sometimes inversions break up and something like this could occur, but we just don't know what it was," he said.

Patrolman Jeff Hoffman of the Richland Township police in Allegheny County said two cars from his department were out in the early afternoon telling nursing home personnel to keep patients inside and close the windows as a precautionary measure.

He said the township also contacted local golf courses to see if any were spraying insecticide. Hoffman said he saw the phenomenon himself.

"It was like a haze, like heat coming off the pavement, not like a cloud in the sky," he said. "One officer said he had a sweet taste in his mouth."

Kathy Paskorz, owner of Paskorz Berry Farm in West Deer Township, said she saw the cloud around 11 a.m.

"It was white but it didn't look like smoke or fog and it was massive," she said. "It rolled in just like fog and it covered our whole area."

The cloud had a smell to it, but Paskorz said she couldn't quite identify it.
"It did have a slight smell, but we couldn't pinpoint it," she said. "It didn't burn the nose or anything, but we just couldn't figure out what it was."

One of the workers on her farm experienced a nosebleed, but Paskorz said that at the time, she didn't think to wonder if the cloud caused it.

Paskorz said it hung very low and stuck around for about half an hour. Then it just seemed to disappear.

"I don't think it moved on, I think it just dissipated," she said.

Paskorz said no one official ever came around and told them to get inside or to take precautions. She saw the reports on the noon news.

"It was strange, definitely," she said. "But not enough to cause us to panic."
Alice Lund,

Butler Eagle operations manager , said several Butler Eagle newspaper carriers were told to get off the roads in the Valencia area by Middlesex Township police.
However, police departments in the area said they were not closing roads or blocking drivers from traveling in those areas.

Another Eagle delivery driver reported several businesses along Route 8 in southern Butler County were closing. The only store confirmed closed was Z&Z Pizza, which shut its doors between 1:15 and 4 p.m.

Gloria Zimmerman, Z&Z Pizza shop owner, said a Richland Township
Police officer had informed those working in the shop of a hazardous gas. He then instructed Zimmerman to close all doors and windows.

Zimmerman said the gas "smelled like sulfur in the air," but noted there was much confusion because there was not much information about the situation.
Z&Z Pizza did not experience any noticeable decrease in demand for pizza during the hours lost.

Jeff Engles of Clinton Township saw something unusual in the air around 1 or 1:30 p.m. and wondered whether it was the morning fog burning off or the results of something burning. "It was a barely white haze in the distance," Engles said. "But I didn't smell anything."

Middlesex Township emergency management coordinator Greg Stegman said he and Middlesex police Chief Ed Brooks rode around the township looking for the cloud, but were unable to see or smell anything. He said none of the residents the pair talked to reported seeing anything, either.

Consequently, the two men did not tell anyone to close their doors or windows.
Dennis Narey, director of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services, gave the all-clear at 3:15 p.m. in West Deer Township and the North Hills area because no dangerous substances could be found by any agency.
Matis' press release also stated that the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh indicated the cloud might have been the result of a weather inversion in the area.
However, the weather service said this morning it cannot definitely confirm if the cloud was a weather inversion, but added it continues to investigate.

Narey said officials will continue to monitor the area in case the cloud makes a repeat appearance.

"We will rely on the experts for any additional information."

Eagle staff writer Shari Berg and Eagle news intern Brandon Thurner contributed to this story.
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